Asia in Review Archive 2021
30 March 2021
Pakistan: Prosecution failed to prove guilt of main accused in murder case of US journalist, says apex court
(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) has criticized the prosecution for its failure to prove the guilt of the main accused in the case on kidnapping and murder of an American journalist. In its judgement, the apex court on March 26 held that the evidence furnished during the trial against British-born Islamist Ahmed Saeed Omar Sheikh was full of factual and legal defects. [The New Indian Express]
Before, the SC in February had affirmed a lower court’s decision to acquit Sheikh and his three co-conspirators of all charges – except abduction – and recommended that Sheikh be transferred to a government safe house as a steppingstone to his full release after spending 18 years on death row [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Soon thereafter, the journalist’s family had filed a review petition, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. [Dawn]
Sheikh always denied his role, and questions remained over whether he had actually carried out the killing, or just been a secondary figure involved in the kidnapping. A recently revealed letter showed Sheikh seeming to admit a “relatively minor” role in the journalist’s murder for the first time, although his lawyer says this was written under duress. Just days before the SC’s ruling, Sheikh was transferred to a government safe house, frustrating efforts by the government and the journalist’s family to keep him in jail. [The Times]
30 March 2021
Pakistan: Government establishes anti-rape crisis cells
(lm) In the wake of rising cases of rape, assault and sexual abuse in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has decided to set up “Anti-Rape Crisis Cells” in every district of the country. The Ministry of Law and Justice has constituted a 42-member Special Committee to oversee the establishment of the cells. The Committee is also entitled to prepare recommendations for the prime minister’s approval regarding the investigation and prosecution of incidents of sexual assault. [Pakistan Today] [Ministry of Human Rights]
The setting-up of the Committee follows on a decision by a Cabinet committee last November, which had approved two ordinances to introduce strict punishments for sex offenders, including chemical castration, and setting up special courts to expedite rape trials. The legislation came months after Prime Minister Imran Khan had promised to remove deficiencies in existing legislation to expedite justice for rape victims [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].
The country ranks 154th on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s 2020 Gender Inequality Index and 151st, or third-last, on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020. [UNDP] [World Economic Forum]
30 March 2021
Pakistan: Killing of teenagers sparks protest caravan in country’s former tribal region
(lm) About 3,000 demonstrators in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province launched a protest caravan early on March 28 to demand a government probe into the deaths of four young men who they allege died during interrogation by security forces. In their attempt to reach Islamabad, the caravan tried to break through a police blockade, prompting security forces to fire tear gas at the protesters. Following overnight talks with government officials, leaders of the protest called off the demonstration on March 29. [Gandhara 1]
Many participants in the protest caravan were part of a sit-in protest that began nearly a week earlier in a town located on the border of the former tribal region of North Waziristan, after the bullet-riddled corpses of the four teenagers were discovered in a field. [Gandhara 2] [The Straits Times]
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province comprises the former semi-autonomous tribal areas, where Pakistan’s military has launched a series of operations since 2014, forcing Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Rights groups have accused the military of carrying out extrajudicial detentions and other abuses in the area – a charge the military has consistently denied.
30 March 2021
Pakistan: Prime Minister Khan appoints new finance minister
(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister on March 29 removed Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh, who had lost a crucial contest for a Senate seat earlier this month [see AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2], as part of a government shake-up aimed at bringing in policies to control “rising inflation”. Succeeding Shaikh is hitherto Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar. [Anadolu Agency] [Nikkei Asia]
The change in personnel comes shortly after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on March 24 approved a $500 million disbursement to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) which should eventually bring Islamabad $6 billion [see AiR No. 12, March/2021, 4]. Pakistan had entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]. [Reuters]
In the wake of the resumption of the EFF, Islamabad on March 26 signed seven loan agreements with the World Bank with a combined value of $1.3 billion to oil its drying external financing pipelines. In addition, the government is also preparing to pitch Eurobonds worth around $2 billion to global investors to shore up foreign reserves. [The Express Tribune 1] [The Express Tribune 2]
23 March 2021
India’s arms imports dip by 33 percent; Pakistan emerges a major importer
(lm) India’s arm imports have decreased by a whopping 33 percent in the second half of the decade, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), indicating that the country’s drive towards Atmanirbhar Bharat (‘self-reliant India) is showing first results. What is more, Pakistan has emerged as one of the largest arms importers in the Asia-Pacific during the same period, accounting for 2.7 percent of major defense imports globally. [The EurAsian Times]
The report on international arms transfers, which was published on March 15, attributed the drop in India’s arms imports mainly to an attempt to reduce dependence on Russia. In fact, arms exports by Moscow, which accounted for 20 percent of all exports of major arms between 2016 and 2020, dropped by 22 percent, according to the report. Importantly, the bulk – around 90 percent – of this decrease was attributable to a 53 percent fall in its arms exports to India. [Hindustan Times]
Pakistan, in turn, has imported about eight large arms or weapons systems from five different nations during 2016-20 with an aim to improve and enhance the capabilities of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) and Navy. Notably, China accounts for about 74 percent of the country’s arms imports – up from 61 percent during the first half of the decade – followed by Russia and Italy, which account for 6.6 percent and 5.9 percent, respectfully.
23 March 2021
International Monetary Fund likely to resume Pakistan’s loan program
(lm) The IMF’s Executive Board is expected to meet on March 24 to approve Pakistan’s request for completion of the second of a total of four reviews and modify performance criteria as well as structural benchmarks both sides had agreed upon during a staff-level meeting in February [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. [The Express Tribune]
The executive board’s approval would pave the way for release of $500 million to Pakistan, the third loan tranche under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which should eventually bring Pakistan $6 billion. Pakistan entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1].
However, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to delay some critical decisions pertaining to rationalizing expenditure, increasing electricity prices and tax revenue, among others, has not only significantly increased the workload of the key ministries involved in the program. More importantly, it has also led the government to shortening the legislative process by promulgating the proposed measures through presidential ordinances. [Dawn] [Daily Times]
There is a good case to believe that the defeat of incumbent Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad has shaped the government’s perception. For Shaikh, who is a key member in charge of the government’s economic policies and reforms plan under the IMF’s loan program, had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2].
23 March 2021
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurates country’s first security dialogue
(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated on March 17 the first security dialogue in Islamabad, saying that food security and climate change will be given the most importance. The Islamabad Security Dialogue is being organized by Pakistan’s National Security Division (NSD) in collaboration with its advisory board, comprising five leading think tanks of the country. The conference aims to define the country’s new strategic direction in line with the prime minister’s vision. [Dawn] [Geo TV]
Commenting on regional peace and stability, Khan called on India to move towards resolving the contentious territorial conflict over the Kashmir region. Further elaborating, Khan said India’s decision to unilaterally end the constitutional autonomy of the Indian-administered territories [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1] was behind the breakdown of ties between the neighbors. Interestingly, the prime minister appeared to indicate that talks on Kashmir could pave the way for a discussion on trade-related issues between the two countries. [The Straits Times]
The following day, Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa called for the two arch-rivals to ‘bury the past’ and move towards cooperation, adding that the burden was on New Delhi to create a ‘conducive environment’. He also said the United States had a role to play in ending regional conflicts. Timing and context of the remarks are noteworthy, considering that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commenced a three-day working visit to New Delhi later that week [see AiR No. 11, March/2021, 3]. [The Straits Times 2]
The two nations recently adopted a softer tone. Military commanders from both sides in a rare joint statement announced on February 25 they had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors. [AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]
Looking at energy security next, the prime minister said that neighboring Iran had the capacity to meet Islamabad’s energy needs. In 1995, Pakistan, India, and Iran signed a deal conceived to deliver Iranian gas to India via Pakistan, but New Delhi withdrew from the agreement because of security issues and high costs. While the Iranian section of the pipeline was completed in 2011, Pakistan’s energy ministry announced in 2019 that it could not continue with the project as long as Tehran was subject to US sanctions. [Middle East Monitor]
23 March 2021
India, Pakistan set for water-sharing talks, indicating larger diplomatic roadmap towards peace
(lm) India and Pakistan will hold the first meeting in three years of a bilateral commission created to implement and manage the goals and objectives and outlines of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) on March 23. At the forthcoming talks, the Pakistani side is likely to raise its objections regarding at least two Indian hydroelectric plants located at shared rivers. Islamabad is also expected to seek information on new projects planned by India on western rivers, and flood data arrangements for the flood season. [Hindustan Times] [The Straits Times]
The Permanent Indus Commission is supposed to meet at least once a year – alternately in India and Pakistan – under the IWT, which governs water usage on the Indus and its tributaries that flow through the two countries. Hence, the talks represent a thawing in bilateral ties, which have been frozen since the 2019 Pulwama suicide attacks that killed 40 Indian soldiers in the Indian-administered Kashmir town of Pulwama [see AiR (3/2/2019), AiR (4/2/2019)], and India’s decision later that year to strip the region’s constitutional autonomy in order to bring it into closer embrace [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1].
What is more, the reconvening of the Commission follows a rare military agreement this month to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors [see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1].
Coming like a bolt from the blue, the agreement had triggered speculations about the causes that lie behind it, with many observers suggesting that China or the United States had been the driving force. News reports published on March 22, however, claim that the India-Pakistan ceasefire marked the first milestone of a four-step “roadmap for peace” between the two South Asian neighbors, which was agreed upon during secret talks brokered by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that began months earlier.[Bloomberg] [The Hindu]
The next step in the process involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled in 2019 after Pakistan protested against India’s move to unilaterally abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution, thereby breaking the Indian-administered part of Kashmir into two union territories. Then comes the hard part: talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since India and Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947.
Several clues over the past few months pointed at the UAE’s role. In November, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar Jaishankar met with his counterpart from the UAE, Abdullah bin Zayid Al Nahyan, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during a two-day working visit to Abu Dhabi. The trip was followed by a visit to Abu Dhabi from Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi the following month.
Roughly two weeks before the February 25 announcement, the UAE foreign minister held a phone call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan “wherein they discussed regional and international issues of interest”. And just days before, India allowed the prime minister’s aircraft to fly over Indian airspace as he headed to Sri Lanka for a state visit – a practice suspended since the 2019 hostilities [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].
23 March 2021
Pakistan: Over 170 killed in Balochistan in 2020, according to local human rights council
(lm) 480 individuals were secretly abducted and another 177 killed with their body concealed after the fact in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, according to a report published by the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, which was published on March 17. However, the statistics only capture a small fracture of the true number of cases, according to members of the rights group, as numbers were derived from the information accessible to them from various areas of Balochistan. [The Balochistan Post]
23 March 2021
Pakistan: Government urged to probe killing of journalist
(lm) The New York-based advocacy group “Committee to Protect Journalists” (CPJ) has called on authorities in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh to conduct a “credible” investigation into the killing of a journalist last week. [CPJ]
The journalist died in a hospital on March 16, a day after unknown assailants riding a motorcycle and a car with four passengers had opened fire on him while he was sitting in a barbershop. Local police has announced the formation of a team to investigate the killing, insisting that they were in the process of collecting evidence and recording statements from witnesses to ascertain the cause of the crime. [Voice of America]
23 March 2021
Pakistan: Opposition alliance fails to build consensus on mass resignation
(lm) The Pakistan Democratic Movement – an 11-party coalition of opposition parties – has postponed their long march on the capital, Islamabad, after the group failed to reach a consensus on the mass resignation of their members from provincial and national assemblies.
PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman said on March 16 the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had sought more time to reconsider its position on the issue of mass resignations and said it would first consult internally with the party’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Other leaders of the movement were quoted stating that the PPP was not serious about implementing the agenda of the movement and accused it of having some form of “understanding”with the ruling establishment.
There is a good case to believe that from the PPP’s standpoint, the recent Senate elections – notably the victory of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad – have caused a major dent in the ruling alliance. Further, the PPP currently heads the government in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh. It therefore seems to follow that the PPP leadership would rather give tough time to the government while staying in the assemblies, instead of leaving the field open for the government. [Dawn]
23 March 2021
Pakistan: Government zeroes in on Election Commission
(lm) Leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on March 15 called on the country’s Chief Election Commissioner to resign and demanded that the current the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) be reconstituted, claiming the Commission had failed to hold the recently concluded Senate elections in a transparent manner. [Geo TV] [Khaleej Times 1]
Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament on March 6 after his ruling PTI party had failed to secure a majority in the Senate elections held three days earlier. Two days prior to the Senate elections, the Supreme Court had ruled on March 1 that the elections should be held via secret ballot, but their secrecy is not absolute and that the ECP should employ the latest technology to ensure ‘that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.’ Citing lack of time, the ECP the following day stated that this year’s elections would be conducted as per past practice. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]
There is a good case to believe that the PTI is seeking to undermine the ECP’s authority and public image, for the ECP has issued notices to the PTI and its own scrutiny committee to appear before it on March 22 to explain their stance over secrecy of scrutiny in a case pertaining to allegations it had fraudulently financed its election campaign. [Khaleej Times 2]
In 2014, a founding member of the PTI had filed a petition with the ECP, alleging the party had illicitly received funds from foreigners. Arguing that the commission does not have the authority to examine the accounts of any political party, the PTI has since approached the Islamabad High Court six times to stay the hearing of the petition. Further, the PTI filed similar petitions against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the ECP. In January, the PTI admitted raising campaign funds through foreign accounts, but blamed illegalities on its agents in the United States without specifying who they were [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4].
16 March 2021
Pakistan assures Uzbekistan of access to its ports
(lm) Pakistan has assured Uzbekistan of providing access to its two ports – Karachi and Gwadar – in a bid to enhance regional connectivity and trade. An announcement in this regard was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan on March 10, the second and final day of a two-day visit of Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Kamilov to Islamabad. [Dawn]
The move would provide Uzbekistan, which currently relies on Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, with a cheap transit alternative. Islamabad, in turn, aims to expand its footprint in Central Asia by gaining access to the economies of neighboring countries and redirecting their trade through Pakistani ports. Turkmenistan, another landlocked but resource-rich region in Central Asia had also expressed its keen interest in connecting with Pakistan’s warm water ports – most notably the China-operated Gwadar port. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]
In December last year, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan agreed on a roadmap for the construction of a $4.8 billion trilateral railway project connecting Mazar-e-Sharif, Pehswar and Kabul. Because the security situation in Afghanistan is of central concern in the region, Uzbekistan has been engaging with the Taliban’s political leadership for some years, in what is being seen as seeking assurance for the safety of their investment. At the same time, Uzbekistan is also planning an alternative route, which connects the country with Pakistan via the Karakorum Pass, bypassing Afghanistan.
Notably, the announcement comes shortly after Uzbekistan, alongside other countries, had joined India on March 4 in commemorating ‘Chabahar Day’. Chabahar Port is being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan to boost trade ties among the three countries. Located on Iran’s energy-rich southern coast, it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean, and thus can be easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan. [AiR No. 10, March/2021, 2]
16 March 2021
SIPRI international arms transfers report 2020
(dql) According to the 2020 international arms transfers report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released last week, the US remains the world’s largest arms supplier in 2016-2020 accounting for 37% of the global arms exports, followed by Russia (20%), France (8.2), Germany (5.5%) and China (5.2%). Together, these five countries accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. Besides China, Asian countries listed among the top 25 countries which accounted for 99% of global arms exports include South Korea (2.7%, ranking at 7), the United Arab Emirates (0.5%, 18), and India (0.2%, 24)
Against the backdrop of the US-China rivalry, the US allies Australia (accounting for 9.4% of US arms exports), South Korea (6.7%) and Japan (5.7%) were among the five largest importers of US arms.
23 Asian countries were among the 40 largest importers including Saudi-Arabia, India, China, South Korea, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iraq, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, Oman, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Jordan, the Philippines, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Taiwan, and Malaysia. [Reliefweb]
16 March 2021
Pakistan: Gilgit Baltistan Assembly adopts resolution demanding provincial status from federal government
(lm) The Legislative Assembly of Pakistan’s de facto province Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) on March 9 unanimously adopted a joint resolution asking the federal government to grant the territory interim provincial status and provide it with representation in Parliament and other constitutional bodies. The resolution was moved by GB’s Chief Minister, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan. [Kashmir Images]
Last November, the PTI party and its ally Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) had emerged as the largest political alliance in the provincial assembly elections, despite failing to achieve a clear majority [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Khan constituted a 12-member committee to make recommendations about changing the status of GB [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].
To date, the federal government has fallen short of declaring the strategic region as its fifth province, ostensibly to protect its claim on the entirety of Kashmir in the event of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. As a consequence, the region has been caught in constitutional limbo and denied representation in Pakistan’s national legislature [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].
9 March 2021
Bangladesh: Anniversary of Sheikh Mujib Rahman’s historic March 7 speech observed
(lm) Bangladesh has observed the 50th anniversary of the historic speech given by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding president of Bangladesh and father of incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on March 7, 1971. Delivered during a period of escalating tensions between East Pakistan and the powerful political and military establishment of West Pakistan, the speech effectively declared the independence of Bangladesh. [bdnews24.com]
At that time, Pakistani military rulers refused to transfer power to Rahman’s Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party which had gained majority in the National Assembly of Pakistan in 1970. The Bangladesh Liberation War began 18 days later when the Pakistan Army launched a military operation aimed at eliminating the Awami League apparatus, alongside Bengali civilians, intelligentsia, students, politicians, and armed personnel.
9 March 2021
Three “commanders” of Pakistan Taliban killed in northwestern tribal region
(lm) Pakistan’s military announced on March 8 it had killed four members of the country’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in two separate security operations in Waziristan, including three senior members. [Anadolu Agency]
The intelligence-based operations came after the TTP had recently conducted a number of high-profile terrorist attacks [see e.g. AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4], indicating a resurgence of its activities. The visible uptick in attacks over the past year in the former semi-autonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan is believed to be the result of the TTP’s reunification with three formerly estranged factions in August last year [see No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [The Diplomat]
9 March 2021
Pakistani military kills 5 militants in response to recent attacks in Balochistan
(lm) Pakistan’s security forces on March 8 killed five members of the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan. [The Tribune]
Before the intelligence-based operation, terrorists belonging to the BLA had carried out at least two attacks in the province. Five construction workers were killed and five more injured when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on March 5. The following day, four members of the Pakistan Navy were killed and another two seriously injured during an ambush near the port city of Gwadar. [South Asia Monitor 1] [South Asia Monitor 2]
9 March 2021
China, Pakistan reiterate commitment to China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor
(lm) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized on March 2 Beijing and Islamabad should continue to support their China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) and expand their strategic partnership. Wang made the remarks during a video call with his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, which was made to mark the 70th anniversary of the countries establishing diplomatic relations. [South China Morning Post]
Launched in 2013, the CPEC is part of Beijing’s international infrastructure strategy known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though often valued at $62 billion, only about $25 billion worth of CPEC projects have so far been developed, giving rise to concerns that the alliance has been exacting on Pakistan’s resources, people and international reputation. [Politico]
To keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Pakistan’s Cabinet Committee on CPEC recently directed the relevant ministries to improve the pace of work on CPEC projects [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Beijing, in turn, the same month proposed a joint parliamentary oversight committee to strengthen its hold over the speed and quality over the implementation of projects under the CPEC [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1].
9 March 2021
Pakistan: Legislation needed to meet three outstanding FATF benchmarks
(lm) Pakistan will have to make further legislation on at least two counts to complete its action plan with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) before June 2021, members of the country’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on Anti-Money Laundering noticed on March 2. [Dawn]
Presiding over the meeting, Minister of Finance and Revenue Abdul Hafeez Shaikh also said Islamabad is expected to submit an updated report within 30 days to the FATF on the progress on the legislation and other steps to be taken to address the outstanding concerns.
Two weeks ago, the FATF – an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing – gave Pakistan time until June to implement the remaining three action items assigned to it to be removed from the watchdog’s list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’[see AiR No. 9, March/2021, 1]. All these deficiencies are related to terror financing, according to the FATF. [FATF]
9 March 2021
Pakistan: Prime Minister Khan wins vote of confidence amid opposition protest, boycott
(lm) Prime Minister Imran Khan survived a vote of confidence in the lower house of Parliament on March 6 after his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party failed to secure a majority in the Senate elections held three days earlier. The session was marked by an opposition boycott of the vote and clashes between government supporters and opposition leaders outside the Parliament building. [Dawn] [South China Morning Post] [The Straits Times 1]
The prime minister volunteered to seek the National Assembly’s confidence after former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani defeated on March 3 incumbent Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh in a crucial contest for the senate seat representing Islamabad. After the vote, opposition parties — mainly former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) and former president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — now enjoy the support of 53 members of the 100-member Senate. [Deutsche Welle] [The Times of India]
Shaikh, who is a key member in-charge of the government’s economic policies and reforms plan under the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s $6 billion loan program [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4], had to win a Parliament seat to continue as the finance minister after June 11. [The Straits Times 2]
Not having a majority in Senate, the prime minister will find it almost impossible to pass legislation in Parliament, and will have to rely on President Arif Alvi, a party loyalist, to pass presidential ordinances to keep the government functioning. Yet, major constitutional changes will remain beyond Prime Minister Khan’s reach, even though legal reforms are sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) [see article below]. [Arab News] [Nikkei Asia]
This year’s elections were being conducted amidst an anti-government drive by an 11-party coalition of opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). The PDM leaders had earlier threatened to resign en masse from the provincial and national assemblies, and refused to take part in the Senate elections, but later backtracked after the PPP decided to contest the polls [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3].
In the lead up to the elections much of the debate surrounded the secrecy of ballot that is observed in the Senate elections, which has always led to allegations of vote buying. The government moved a conditional presidential ordinance and later invoked advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court (SC) to conduct the elections via open ballot [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. The SC ruled on March 1 that the elections should be held via secret ballot, but their secrecy is not absolute and that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should employ the latest technology to ensure “that the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law and that corrupt practices are guarded against.” Citing lack of time, the ECP the following day stated that this year’s elections would be conducted as per past practice. [Dawn] [The Hindu]
2 March 2021
Tensions simmer at volatile Iran-Pakistan border
(lm) Repeated flare-ups along the border which demarcates Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province from Pakistan’s Balochistan province in recent weeks have exacerbated tensions between the two countries, threatening to further destabilase an already volatile region. Tehran is currently investigating a shooting at the border that left at least two dead and six wounded. [Al Jazeera]
According to local rights activists, members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocked the road that residents use to transport fuel to Pakistan, and opened fire at those attempting to open the road. The incident, which occurred on February 22, led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, including the capital, Zahedan. The deputy governor of the Sistan and Baluchestan province also accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran, killing one and wounding four. [Deutsche Welle, in German] [Human Rights Watch]
The border is frequently used by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border has also long been the entry point for the ethnic Baluch population engaged in unlawful cross-border commerce that authorities have struggled to crack down on for decades. Moreover, Tehran has long been accusing Islamabad of not acting against militant groups and Baloch separatists, notably Jaish-al-Adl, a Salafi jihadist militant organization that operates mainly in southeastern Iran – a claim that Pakistan denies. [Arab News]
Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-kilometer border with Iran; at present, 40 percent of the construction work have been completed, according to Home Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who visited the border region earlier this month. [Anadolu Agency]
2 March 2021
Pakistan expresses solidarity with Saudi Arabia in Jamal Khashoggi murder case
(lm) The United States on February 26 released a long-awaited declassified intelligence report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government, who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 by agents of the Saudi government. The report concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, approved the planned assassination. [CNN]
The following day, Pakistan’s foreign ministry released a press statement, expressing its solidarity with Riyadh, saying that Islamabad would recognize the Kingdom’s efforts to bring Khashoggi’s murders to justice. Pakistan’s Special Representative on the Religious Harmony and the Middle East even denied the findings of the report, calling them ‘baseless.’ [Arab News] [Dawn]
While Saudi Arabia is beginning to feel the heat of the new Biden-Harris Administration, changes in US foreign policy also create an opportunity for Pakistan to get its relationship with the Kingdom back on track. In fact, Saudi Arabia recently extended cash support worth $2 billion to Islamabad, lending further credence to the argument that both sides are keen to put the brakes on further deterioration their bilateral relations [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].
2 March 2021
Pakistan again gets extension to make case for exiting FATF list
(lm) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has given Pakistan time until June to show the country had done enough to be removed from the watchdog’s list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’. [Bloomberg]
The decision was made on February 25, the third and final day of the inter-governmental organization’s virtual meeting [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4]. During the session, the FATF had reviewed Pakistan’s measures against money laundering and terror financing and found that Islamabad had addressed 24 of the 27 action items assigned to it. All of these deficiencies are related to terror financing, according to the FATF.
This is the second extension after Pakistan failed to meet four previous deadlines. Four months ago, Islamabad was asked to see through the internationally agreed action plan by February and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].
Since it was first placed on the list in June 2018, Islamabad has been facing possible blacklisting, which could lead to economic sanctions from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Still, an entry in the list for the third time since 2008 is expected to take a toll on trade and investment: Islamabad-based research advisory Tabadlab estimates that Pakistan would sustain about $38 billion in economic losses due to FATF’s decision to keep the country on its grey list. [Hindustan Times]
2 March 2021
India, Pakistan agree to observe ceasefire agreements along Line of Control
(lm) India and Pakistan in a rare joint statement announced on February 25 both sides had agreed to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) – the de facto border that divides the disputed Kashmir valley between the two countries – and all other sectors. However, New Delhi emphasized that its military would maintain deployments along the LoC to prevent infiltration and continue counterinsurgency operations in the Kashmir Valley. [Indian Ministry of Defense] [ACB News] [The Hindu]
India and Pakistan signed a Ceasefire Understanding in 2003, but the truce has been frayed, with frequent clashes and cross-border shelling in recent months reportedly killing multiple civilians [see e.g. AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. The return to a truce was settled during a phone conversation between the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) on February 22. Attentive observers of both countries believe the joint statement to be the result of months-long backchannel talks between India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf. [The Federal] [Hindustan Times]
Coming like a bolt from the blue, the agreement triggered speculations about the causes that lie behind it.
Coming only weeks after China and India have agreed to withdraw frontline troops along Pangong Tso [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3], some analysts say the moves may have been choreographed with Beijing. To be sure, there is a good case to believe that India’s decision in 2019 to unilaterally abrogate Article 370 of the constitution, thereby breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1], was at least in part motivated by concerns over a possible two-front conflict due to increased cooperation between the Islamabad and Beijing [see e.g. AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3]. [South China Morning Post]
In fact, while the international narrative has largely been limited to the bilateral dispute between Pakistan and India, China – through its claims on Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam Valley – remains an interested party in the territorial issue of Jammu and Kashmir. [The EurAsian Times]
At any rate, from India’s perspective, curbing cross-border infiltration and support to militancy from across Pakistan frees up more policy space to focus on the China issue. A case in point, security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir are have raised red flags over the recent arrival of ‘sticky bombs’ – small, magnetic bombs which can be attached to vehicles and detonated remotely – including 15 seized in a February raid. Indian officials say none of the devices seized in the disputed territory was produced there, suggesting they were being smuggled from Pakistan. [Reuters] [The Citizen]
Nevertheless, some Indian observers question the sincerity of the agreement, pointing out that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy has always been in flux between bilateral talks on the one hand and a militaristic approach on the other. Hence, they suggest that the ceasefire agreement may be best understood a tactical move by India. That is, New Delhi, for its part, may use the agreement to keep its toolkit ready at a time when the new US Biden-Harris administration has committed itself to pursuing a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality. [Observer Research Foundation]
23 February 2021
India takes delegation of international diplomats to tour Jammu and Kashmir region
(lm) India on February 17 and 18 hosted a delegation of 24 international diplomats in its Jammu and Kashmir union territory to showcase efforts to restore normalcy more than a year after it stripped the region’s special status. During their visit, the foreign envoys were allowed to speak with local residents to discuss their responses to recent local elections and economic opportunities [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. The trip also included meetings with officials from Indian Army and government, as well as journalists and civil society groups selected by the security services. [U.S. News] [The Straits Times]
This was the third group of dignitaries to visit the Indian-administered region since August 2019, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government unilaterally abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, breaking the state of Kashmir into two union territories – one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu and Kashmir, and the second being the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh [see AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1].
The president of the Pakistan-administered state of Azad Kashmir termed the tour an attempt by New Delhi to “project a false image of normalcy” in the disputed territory. [Anadolu Agency]
23 February 2021
Pakistani female aid workers killed by assailants
(lm) Gunmen on motorcycles killed at least four aid workers in an ambush in the northwestern district of North Waziristan on February 22, an attack which observers say could portend a resurgence of militant violence in the area, a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. [New York Times] [The Guardian]
Moreover, at least five Pakistani soldiers were killed and two more injured when suspected terrorists carried out attacks in two separate areas in the country’s restive Balochistan province. Both attacks targeted members of the Frontier Corps, one of two paramilitary units involved in combating various militant groups across the province. [Dawn] [Kashmir Observer]
While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, there is a good case to believe that they were masterminded by the Baluch Raji Ajohi Sangar (Alliance for Baluch National Freedom, BRAS), the first alliance ever formed by Baluch terrorist organizations. The terrorist alliance’s ideology revolves around establishing a separate Baluch state and not allowing outside powers (including both China and Pakistan) to extract resources from Baluchistan’s territory. [The Jamestown Foundation]
In January, at least four soldiers belonging to the Frontier Corps were killed and five more injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near their vehicle in the province of Balochistan [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. The incident came just a week after the provincial government had launched a large-scale offensive following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3, AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1].
23 February 2021
Pakistan, Egypt to boost security, economic cooperation
(lm) Pakistan and Egypt have agreed to boost bilateral cooperation, particularly in the fields of economics. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited Cairo from February 16 to 18, and met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi in Cairo, expressing Islamabad’s desire to further strengthen and diversify bilateral ties. The president, in turn, accepted the invitation to visit Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. [Gulf News]
Qureshi’s visit followed an invitation from his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukri, and came after meetings between President Al-Sisi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. The two leaders met on the sidelines of the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca in 2019 and at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York the same year. In the most recent call between Shoukri and Qureshi in December the two ministers expressed a desire for continuous coordination.
For a start, Egypt is in a position to open doors for Pakistan in Africa. In 2019, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi assumed the one-year rotating chair of the African Union. Keen on making a difference, during that year the president noticeably improved Egypt’s relations with other African countries. In light of the ongoing rivalry between India and Pakistan, there is a good case to believe that Islamabad will seek to open up its relations across the African continent, not least in response to the India–Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), the official platform for the African-Indian relations held once in every three years. [Ahram]
Importantly, Qureshi also met with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, incumbent Secretary-General of the Arab League, at the organization’s headquarters in Cairo. There is a good case to believe that the meeting was a continuation of Islamabad’s wider efforts to further mend ties with the Arab world that frayed last year when Qureshi had expressed frustration over the inaction of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and Saudi Arabia with regard to the Kashmir issue [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. [Nikkei Asia]
23 February 2021
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visits Sri Lanka as Colombo balances ties with India
(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan concluded a working visit to Sri Lanka on February 23, after holding separate meetings with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and attending an investors’ conference. [Hindustan Times]
Close partners in trade and defense, both sides developed strong bilateral ties during the Sri Lankan Civil War, when Islamabad supplied high-tech military equipment to Colombo’s military. Shortly before Prime Minister Khan’s arrival, however, Sri Lanka cancelled a scheduled speech of the Pakistani prime minister in Parliament, apparently over fears it could further harm ties with India. [The EurAsian Times]
Observers suggest that Prime Minister Khan may have suggested that Sri Lankan officials accept Pakistani support in the upcoming 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), which will feature a resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Further, in return for giving its explicit support Islamabad might ask Colombo to adopt Pakistan’s position on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. [Foreign Brief]
However, the two parties are unlikely to agree on such arrangements, considering that these would only heighten tensions between Sri Lanka and India. Colombo currently finds itself in a tight spot since it earlier this month pulled out of a three-party agreement with India and Japan for operating the strategic Colombo Port’s Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]. Prior to the decision, India had shipped free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom) to Sri Lanka.
Moreover, the island nation is witnessing a rising islamophobia. Until recently [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3], the government had made cremations of COVID-19 victims mandatory, arguing that burials in accordance with Islamic tradition would pose a public health risk. Human and religious rights groups, as well as local Muslim associations had resented the policy, saying authorities used it to purposely hurt the country’s religious minorities.
23 February 2021
Pakistan softens terms to get Chinese loans for crucial rail project
(lm) In the dispute over the parameters of a Chinese loan to upgrade Pakistan’s railway lines, Islamabad has softened its position on both interest rate and loan currency. In a revised loam term sheet Pakistan shared with Beijing earlier this month, Islamabad agreed to borrow $6 billion in both Chinese and US currencies. [The Express Tribune]
Last August, Pakistan`s top economic body had approved Mainline-1 (ML-1), a $6.8 billion project to upgrade railway infrastructure in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor[see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Work on the first phase of the project was scheduled to commence in January and be completed in 2024. However, as of yet, no contractors have been selected for the project. Eager to finalize the deal, Islamabad is reportedly planning to table the issue during the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. However, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the meeting, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2].
Due to the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad had initially been hoping that Beijing would provide up to 90 percent of the financing and would further agree to a 1 percent interest for the loan. In November, then, Islamabad requested an initial $2.7 billion loan from Beijing for the construction of package-I of the project [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Citing Pakistan’s weakened financial position, however China in December offered to finance only 85 percent of the costs, and rejected the proposed interest rate. As to the payback period, Beijing suggested 15 to 20 years in biannual tranches, including a five-year grace period. Pakistan, however, has asked for a 20-year repayment period, including a 10-year grace period. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].
23 February 2021
International Monetary Fund to resume stalled $6 billion loan program to Pakistan
(lm) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan on February 16 reached a staff-level agreement that Islamabad had completed reforms required for the release of around $500 million in funds. The funds are part of the IMF’s bailout program, the Extended Fund Facility (EFF), which should eventually bring Pakistan $6 billion. In exchange, Islamabad agreed on measures – e.g. rationalize expenditure, increase electricity prices, increase its tax revenue, among others – which are required to complete further reviews of the reform program. [International Monetary Fund] [Reuters]
Pakistan entered the EFF in 2019, but the program was had been suspended last April after Islamabad had failed to meet all requirements [see AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]. Later the same month, the IMF approved an additional $1.4 billion loan for Pakistan to meet the balance of payment needs following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. [Dawn]
Resumption of the stalled bailout package has raised expectations that the South Asian nation will return to global bond markets, at a time when the government is sailing through choppy waters. [Financial Times]
23 February 2021
FATF meets to assess Pakistan’s actions on countering terror financing
(lm) The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing, on February 22 started its three-day virtual meeting. During the meeting, the FATF’s Plenary will review Pakistan’s measures against money laundering and terror financing to decide whether to keep the country on its list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring – often externally referred to as the ‘grey list’. [Dawn] [FATF]
Since it was first placed on the list in June 2018, Islamabad has been facing possible blacklisting, which could lead to economic sanctions from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. During the FATF’s last review last October, Pakistan was urged to complete the remaining six of the 27 parameters included in the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].
In the run-up to the meeting, Pakistan has reached out to the FATF’s member states hoping to garner their support for exiting the rating list of countries tagged as prone to illicit financial activity. The challenge in this regard comes from India, which had mounted a determined effort to hold Pakistan responsible for its role in supporting terrorism and terrorist infrastructure ahead of the previous session [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. According to a report published on February 21, however, Pakistan’s efforts are met with additional resistance from some European countries – especially France and the United States – which hold that Islamabad has failed to fully implement the remaining six parameters.
In this context, two recent events assume added significance, as they may be shaping Paris’ and Washington’s opinion on Pakistan. To begin with, Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) ordered the release from prison of a British-born Islamist who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of an American journalist earlier this month. [AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2]
Moreover, Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi recently urged Paris “not to entrench the discriminatory attitudes against Muslims into laws”, warning that such steps would lead to serious repercussions in the shape of hatred and conflict. The president’s statement came after lawmakers in the French parliament’s lower house on February 16 overwhelmingly approved a bill that would strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sport clubs to safeguard France from radical Islamists and to promote respect for French values. [Anadolu Agency] [New York Times]
The relations between France and Pakistan had deteriorated last year after Pakistani leadership attacked the French government and President Emmanuel Macron for not condemning caricatures showing the Prophet Muhammed [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].
23 February 2021
Bangladesh: Lawyer files sedition case over Al Jazeera investigative report
(lm) A government-linked Bangladeshi lawyer filed a sedition case on February 17 over an Al Jazeera investigative report that had revealed disturbing facts about the family of Bangladesh’s Chief of Army Staff (CAS), General Aziz Ahmed [see AiR No. 7, February/2021, 3]. [Al Jazeera]
The lawyer behind the case is the founder and president of the Bangabandhu Foundation, a government-owned and supported welfare foundation for athletes in Bangladesh. The accused in the lawsuit are Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting Director General and several other people featured in the documentary.
Furthermore, the country’s High Court later the same day ordered the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to remove all content of the report from social media and other online platforms. The BTRC had earlier approached YouTube to remove the investigation from the video platform – a request that was rejected as the content did not violate the company’s community guidelines. In addition, Bangladesh’s telco regulator had also called on US social media giants Facebook and Twitter to pull down the documentary. [The Straits Times]
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has slammed the documentary as a “smear campaign” by Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest political party, which since 2013 is banned from contesting national elections. Its predecessor, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, strongly opposed the independence of Bangladesh and break-up of Pakistan. During the War of Liberation that transformed East Pakistan into Bangladesh in 1971, the group collaborated with the Pakistan Army in its operations against Bengali nationalists and pro-liberation intellectuals. Under Hasina’s government, which has been in power since 2009, five of Jamaat’s senior leaders have been executed over war crimes committed during the war [also see AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1].
16 February 2021
Pakistan successfully conducts training launch of cruise missile
(lm) Pakistan’s army on February 11 successfully flight-tested Babur IA, a short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile that can range up to 450 kilometers. Pakistan first tested the Babur missile in August 2005. [The Express Tribune ]
This is the third missile launch by carried out the armed forces in less than a month, with launches of the Shaheen-III and Ghaznavi ballistic missiles being conducted in late January and early February, respectively. Earlier in January this year, the army had also test-fired an indigenously developed extended-range guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (MLRS). [AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4, AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]
16 February 2021
Pakistan, Turkey launch joint military exercise ATATURK-XI
(lm) A three-week-long joint military exercise involving Turkish Special Forces and troops of Pakistani military’s elite Special Services Group commenced on February 9. The opening ceremony of the exercise ATATURK-XI 2021 was held at the headquarters of the Special Services Group in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province. [Anadolu Agency] [The Express Tribune]
Ankara and Islamabad historically have enjoyed close military and defense cooperation but recent regional developments brought the two countries even closer. In 2018, the Pakistan Navy inter alia signed a contract for the acquisition of four Turkish-built MILGEM corvettes with Turkey’s state-run defense firm and shipyard corporation, ASFAT. Under the agreement, two corvettes will be constructed in Turkey and two in Pakistan. [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]
In January this year, then, Turkey started the construction of the third MILGEM corvette in Istanbul. During the steel cutting ceremony, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Pakistan was a “brotherly country with whom Turkey enjoyed excellent relations”. Earlier that month, Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan also issued the “Islamabad Declaration”, a joint strategy in which they agreed support each other on various international forums on matters pertaining to territorial conflicts [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3].
16 February 2021
Eight killed in Pakistan shootout with militants
(lm) A group of militants attacked a security post in the former tribal region of South Waziristan, triggering a shootout that killed four troops and four insurgents. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the mountainous region served as a headquarters for local and foreign militants until 2017, when the army said it had cleared the region of insurgents following several operations [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. The region still sees sporadic attacks, mainly targeting security forces. [The Economic Times]
16 February 2021
Parliamentary panel relaunches inquiry into effectiveness of Pakistan aid program
(lm) The British International Development Committee (IDC), a select committee of the lower house of Parliament of the United Kingdom, has relaunched an inquiry into the effectiveness of London’s aid project for Pakistan. A previous inquiry launched in June 2019 had ended inconclusive, due to the dissolution of Parliament in November the same year. [Dawn]
Pakistan has been the largest country program under Department for International Development (DFID) for the past five years, receiving more than $400 million in the fiscal year 2019-20, spanning across areas including human development, climate and the environment, and humanitarian aid. [DFID]
16 February 2021
Chinese company threatens international arbitration over delayed CPEC project
(lm) Against the larger backdrop of the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) [see AiR No. 6, February/2021, 2], a Chinese company has threatened to take a Pakistani state-owned company to court for creating hurdles in the commissioning of an energy project.
The Chinese company in December last year completed construction work on the Matiari–Lahore transmission line, a $2.1 billion transmission line that is supposed to transmit electricity to northern Pakistan. Delivered under the build–own–operate–transfer (BOOT) method, the Chinese company will hand over the infrastructure to Pakistan 25 years after commissioning. However, Pakistan’s National Transmission & Despatch Company (NTDC) refused to approve the documents required the commissioning after it had experienced oscillation during trials. [The News International]
16 February 2021
Pakistan: Government employees clash with police in Islamabad
(lm) The Pakistani government approved a raise in salaries of federal employees on February 11, a day after the capital, Islamabad, saw demonstrations turn violent as protesters clashed with police throughout the day and officers resorted to heavy tear gas shelling to disperse the crowd. At least one police officer lost his life and dozens of employees were arrested when the crowd attempted to enter the capital city’s highly restricted ‘red zone’, which houses parliament, the prime minister’s office, and most foreign embassies. [Geo News] [Dawn]
The federal employees are demanding a 40 percent pay raise, which they said the government has been delaying for long. After successful negotiations with representatives of employees, the government announced a 25 percent increase in the salaries of federal employees from grade 1 to 19 which has been approved on an “ad-hoc basis”. Further, the government decided to release all the arrested protestors and apologized to the employees for the use of force by capital police, saying that “it should not have happened”. [Gulf News]
16 February 2021
Pakistan: Supreme Court judgement bans executions of prisoners with mental disabilities
(lm) In a landmark ruling, Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) commuted on February 10 the death sentences of two mentally ill prisoners, who have spent decades on death row, and sent them to health facilities. The court also directed the prison officials to file a fresh mercy petition for a third prisoner. The ruling reverses a 2016 decision in which the court had observed that schizophrenia was “not a permanent mental disorder.” [Deutsche Welle] [Amnesty International]
Pakistan in 2008 ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) under which the government is obligated to ensure effective access to justice for people with psychosocial disabilities. This includes providing adequate health care, support, and procedural adjustments to enable people with disabilities to participate in the judicial process. [United Nations]
Last year, following a the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Pakistan’s crowded jails, the SC agreed to release some mentally ill and disabled prisoners to ease conditions, but only those whose sentences were less than three years.
9 February 2021
Pakistan successfully conducts training launch of short-range ballistic missile
(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted on February 3 a flight test of its ballistic missile Ghaznavi, which could carry both nuclear and conventional warheads to a range of 290 kilometers. Earlier this month Islamabad carried out a flight-test of its Shaheen-III ballistic missile in the Northern Arabian Sea [see AiR No. 4, January/2021, 4]. [Dawn]
9 February 2021
Pakistan: Police foils terrorist attack in Karachi
(lm) The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of Pakistan’s Sindh province has killed one and arrested five suspected militants, foiling a potential terrorist attack in Karachi involving guns and explosives. During the intelligence-based operation, weapons, bomb-making materials, and suicide jackets were recovered. [Dawn] [Gulf News]
Earlier Pakistan had arrested a “most wanted” militant linked to the Followers of Zainab Brigade, a pro-government brigade fighting in Syria composed of members of the Pakistani Shiite community. According to investigators, the arrested terrorist had received military training in neighboring Iran, and was named in the Red Book, a publication prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) that lists human traffickers and high-profile terrorists. [Arab News]
9 February 2021
Pakistan, United Kingdom inch closer towards inking extradition treaty
(lm) Pakistan and the United Kingdom have advanced towards signing an extradition treaty, after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed assured on February 2 the British High Commissioner that Islamabad did not intend to use the treaty for politically motivated extradition. [Dawn]
At present, no formal extradition treaty exists between Pakistan and the UK, although Section 194 of the UK Extradition Act 2003 contains provisions for special “ad hoc” extradition arrangements. Islamabad has been seeking to sign an extradition treaty with London for a long time, but the British government had routinely expressed its reluctance to ink any such accord on the grounds that it does not sign extradition treaties with the countries subjected frequently to military rule.
Islamabad’s renewed efforts are taking place against the larger backdrop of its failure to convince London to repatriate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been residing in the UK since 2019, after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2, AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].
9 February 2021
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates retain $2 billion financial lifeline for Pakistan
(lm) While holding a telephone conversation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, agreed to strengthen bilateral ties between Islamabad and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The talk came after Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier last week had extended cash support worth $2 billion, indicating a thaw in relations between Islamabad and the two Gulf nations. [The Express Tribune] [Dawn]
Last year, Saudi Arabia initially decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, withdrawing 2$ billion in loan and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. At the time, China had come forward and extended $1 billion in loan to help Islamabad avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Riyadh also asked its ally UAE to choke Islamabad economically by suspending work visas to its citizens [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].In the face of dwindling foreign exchange reserves and a struggling economy, Islamabad last April [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3] then had entered into negotiations with 21 creditor countries for debt suspension under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) amounting to $1.7 billion. After Pakistan successfully concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the only two countries that were yet to ratify debt suspension agreements [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2].
9 February 2021
Pakistan’s machinery of bureaucracy slows down implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
(lm) Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has expressed concerns over the slow progress being made on implementing projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), cautioning that the delay should not affect the strategic nature of the bilateral relationship between Islamabad and Beijing. Previously, a meeting of the cabinet body responsible for overseeing the implementation of CPEC projects, ended prematurely, because some ministries had failed to remove administrative obstacles for execution of the projects. [The Express Tribune] [Profit By Pakistan Today]
Lending further credence to the gravity of the situation, China continues to be reluctant to schedule the next meeting of CPEC’s principal decision-making body, the Joint Cooperation Committee. While both sides are certainly willing to keep the narrative of continued progress alive, Beijing and Islamabad are embroiled in their most serious disagreement so far, causing some observers to believe that the agreement was derailing.
A case in point is the debate about the construction of the Mainline-1 (ML-1) project, the single-largest project to date under CPEC which involves upgrading and track-doubling railway lines in the Peshawar – Lahore – Karachi corridor [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. In light of the strategic importance of the project, Islamabad expected Beijing to provide up to 90 percent of the financing, further assuming that China was ready to accept a 20-years repayment period. However, citing Pakistan’s weakening financial position, China sought additional guarantees before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of the ML-1 project, and proposed a mix of commercial and concessional loan, notwithstanding Islamabad’s desire to secure the cheapest lending [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].
9 February 2021
Pakistan: Supreme Court scrutinizes approval of development funds for lawmakers
(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) has sought explanation from the federal government over Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision of approving a $3.1 million development grant for each lawmaker of both national and provincial assemblies. During the hearing on February 3, the bench reproduced a 2013 precedent, which declared that the Constitution does not permit the use or allocation of funds to parliamentarians and provincial assembly lawmakers at the sole discretion of the prime minister or chief ministers. [The Express Tribune] [Geo News]
The move also drew heavy criticism from the country’s two major opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which termed it a “political bribe” weeks before the Senate elections [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3].
9 February 2021
Pakistan: Supreme Court order shifting of released Islamist to government safe house
(lm) The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the release from prison on February 2 of a British-born Islamist who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of an American journalist. In a decision that came under heavy criticism from the United States, the SC recommended that Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh be transferred to a government safe house as a steppingstone to his full release after spending 18 years on death row. [The Straits Times] [Dawn]
Earlier the SC had affirmed a lower court’s decision to acquit Sheikh and three co-conspirators of all charges except abduction. The journalist’s family filed a review petition, thereafter, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. However, the SC on February 1 refused to issue a restraining order, and extended the detention of all four men by one day. [AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]
9 February 2021
Pakistan: Alliance of leading opposition parties to start long march on Islamabad on March 26
(lm) The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an alliance of leading opposition parties, announced on February 4 it would commence its long march on the capital, Islamabad, on March 26, in a bid to pile pressure on the federal government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Leaders of the PDM also said the alliance’s constituent parties would jointly contest the upcoming Senate election. [Hindustan Times]
According to Maulana Fazl, President of the PDM, the opposition alliance will also discuss a proposal by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to table a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, in addition to using resignations of parliamentarians after the Senate elections. Further elaborating, he said the opposition had rejected the government-proposed constitution amendment bill seeking open Senate vote, saying the movement believed in a comprehensive package for electoral reforms. [Dawn]
Last December, the federal government decided to hold Senate elections later this month and to invoke advisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court on open voting for the polls [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1, AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The elections are to be held for 52 seats of the upper house that will fall vacant following the retirement of half of the senators on March 11. Importantly, over 65 percent of the senators who are set to retire next year belong to the opposition parties.
2 February 2021
Multinational maritime exercise AMAN-2021 set to start in February off the coast of Karachi
(lm) Pakistan’s Navy will be holding the multinational naval exercise AMAN-2021 in the port city of Karachi next month. Conducted biannually since its initiation in 2007, the exercise will bring together naval forces from 41 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Turkey, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. Significantly, Russia last December confirmed that its Black Sea Fleet will also participate in the drills, marking the first time in a decade that the Russian navy will take part in a joint military exercise with NATO members. [The Nation]
Separately, China on January 29 launched the second Type 054A/P frigate for the Pakistan Navy, with the Pakistan Navy Chief Naval Overseer highlighting at the launch ceremony that induction of the new warship would significantly enhance the country’s maritime defense and deterrence capabilities. [Global Times]
The Pakistan Navy contracted the construction of four Type 054A/P frigates from China since 2017, and the first ship was launched in August last year [see AiR No. 34, August/2020, 4]. Pakistan’s fleet of Type 054A/P warships is scheduled to grow to four by 2021. [Dawn]
2 February 2021
Pakistan, China to form joint parliamentary committee to oversee CPEC
(lm) Pakistan and China have agreed to set up a joint parliamentary committee for effective oversight of projects under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement. The decision was made during a virtual meeting between the speaker of Pakistan’s National Assembly and the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress on January 27. [Dawn 1]
Against the larger backdrop of mounting security concerns for Chinese interests in Pakistan, the Chinese delegation also afresh pressed Islamabad to crack down on ethnic separatist groups in the provinces of Balochistan and Sindh to protect projects linked to the CPEC [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].
Coming as it does on the heels of a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi last month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1], the meeting lends further credence to arguments that see Beijing significantly stepping up its efforts to boost the CPEC [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].
But what is more, the meeting also comes after members of the opposition staged a walkout from a Senate session on January 22 after what they perceived as the lack of a satisfactory response from the government on key issues related to the CPEC Authority. [Dawn 2]
In this connection, both countries also established the China-Pakistan Agricultural and Industrial Cooperation Information Platform to synergize efforts of their agriculture sectors and related industries. [The Express Tribune]
2 February 2021
Pakistan calls on FATF to be removed from “grey” monitoring list
(lm) Pakistan has called on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing, to remove the country from the organization’s rating list of countries tagged as prone to illicit financial activity. In a letter to the FATF’s president, the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior said the international watchdog should at least extend the grace period Islamabad was given to comply with the remaining action items. [The Tribune]
Context and timing of the request are noteworthy: EU Disinfo Lab, a Brussels-based NGO, last month published a report about a global network of pro-Indian fake websites and think tanks aimed at influencing decision-making in Europe. The researchers traced the websites, which were also found to involve groups responsible for anti-Pakistan lobbying events in Europe, to an Indian company. [EU Disinfo Lab]
Moreover, during the FATF’s last review in October, Islamabad was urged to complete the remaining six of the 27 parameters included in the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]. In the run-up to the meeting, India had mounted a determined effort to hold Pakistan responsible for its role in supporting terrorism and terrorist infrastructure.
2 February 2021
Pakistan: First human rights resource portal launched
(lm) The Ministry of Human Rights in partnership with the European Union has launched Pakistan’s first Human Rights Resource Portal. The portal is designed to serve as a central repository of up-to-date and cutting-edge human rights knowledge for students, academics, practitioners and the general public, according to a statement issued on January 27. [The Express Tribune]
2 February 2021
Pakistan: Opposition backs out from talks with government delegation
(lm) Opposition leaders on January 25 backed out from a scheduled meeting with a three-member delegation of the Imran Khan-led government. The meeting, which was expected to lower the current rift between the two sides, was to follow up on an initial meeting held on January 22. [Dawn]
Time and context of the change of heart are noteworthy: Earlier the same day, the parliamentary group of the oppositional Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) held a meeting to discuss what strategy should be adopted for the parliamentary session. Following the meeting, which featured an address by the party’s vice president Maryam Nawaz, the opposition dropped the idea of holding the talks. But what is more, the meeting of PML-N’s parliamentary group came just one day after rumors of discord in the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) over tabling a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan had emerged. [WION]
2 February 2021
Pakistan: Government plans to set up Special Economic Zone in Gilgit-Baltistan
(lm) The government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan plans to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the Pakistan-administered region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan said on January 27. [South Asia Monitor]
Last November, the prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its ally Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) had emerged as the largest political alliance in the provincial assembly elections, despite failing to achieve a clear majority [see AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]. Shortly thereafter, Prime Minister Khan said that the newly formed government would work on a priority basis to grant ‘provisional provincial status’ to the region [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].
To date, Islamabad has fallen short of declaring the strategic region as its fifth province, ostensibly to protect its claim on the entirety of Kashmir in the event of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute with India. As a consequence, the region has been caught in constitutional limbo and denied representation in Pakistan’s national legislature [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. According to observers, there is a good case to believe that elevating the status of GB has been encouraged by neighboring China, at least in part. The region is already home to the Moqpondass, a region selected for one of the proposed nine priority SEZs under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). [Eurasia Review]
In this context, the GB government’s public works department was instructed earlier this month to prepare a “project concept clearance proposal” for a new border road connecting China and Pakistan under CPEC. Currently, the two neighboring countries are connected only by the Karakoram Highway, completed in 1978, via a single crossing in the Khunjerab Pass. Importantly, beyond enhancing transport capacity, the proposed route would also enable great Pakistan military mobility by opening a new supply line from China to Pakistani forces deployed along the Line of Control (LOC), which slices the disputed Indian and Pakistani governed parts of Kashmir into two. [Profit by Pakistan Today] [South China Morning Post]
2 February 2021
Pakistan: Supreme Court affirms acquittal of Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist
(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) on January 28 affirmed the acquittal of a British-born Islamist and three others, who had been convicted in 2002 on charges of kidnapping and murder of a US journalist. The journalist’s family filed a review petition, joining Pakistan’s federal government and the provincial government of Sindh in seeking a reversal of the acquittal. The SC on February 1 refused to issue a restraining order but extended the detention of all four men by one day until February 2. [The Express Tribune] [The Guardian 1] [The Straits Times 1]
The High Court in the province of Sindh last April commuted the 2007 death sentence of the main defendant, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, from execution for murder to seven years in prison for kidnapping, and acquitted his three co-conspirators. As Sheikh had already served 18 years in jail, the court ordered his release. The following day, however, Pakistani authorities ordered the detention of the four men, citing “public safety” concerns. In December, the High Court set aside the government’s detention orders and ordered their immediate release. The journalist’s family and the Sindh state government both appealed against the decision in the SC and requested Sheikh’s jail sentence be extended. [The Straits Times 2]
Sheikh always denied his role, and questions remained over whether he had actually carried out the killing, or just been a secondary figure involved in the kidnapping. A recently revealed letter showed Sheikh seeming to admit a “relatively minor” role in the journalist’s murder for the first time, although his lawyer says this was written under duress. First the Sindh High Court in April last year, and the SC most recently acquitted all defendants because they found that that the prosecution had failed to prove the case against them. [The Guardian 2]
New US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on January 29 expressed Washington’s deep concern over the SC’s ruling. While talking with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Blinken reiterated that Washington was prepared to prosecute Sheikh, who had been indicted in the United States in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of the US journalist. On January 31, however, Pakistan announced it was not going to hand over Sheikh. [Anadolu Agency] [CNN] [The Diplomat]
26 January 2021
Pakistan: Authorities seize property of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
(lm) The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on January 19 revealed that it had seized properties of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The former prime minister is accused of tacitly approving the illegal allotment of land when he was serving as Chief Minister of Punjab more than 30 years ago. Sharif, who has been residing in London since November 2019, is considered by the courts to have absconded. [The Express Tribune]
The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2, AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3].
26 January 2021
Pakistan: Government ready to review new social media rules, says Attorney General
(lm) The federal government has signaled its willingness to review its new social media policy introduced last year, despite criticism from human rights activists and organizations. During a hearing at the Islamabad High Court (IHC), Pakistan’s Attorney General said on January 25 the government would revisit the rules in consultation with relevant stakeholders. The court later adjourned the hearing of the case till February 26. [Dawn] [The Express Tribune]
In December the IHC had admitted a petition filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) against the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020 [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4]. The new rules – framed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) – require a social media company to remove, suspend or disable access to any online content within 24 hours, and in emergency situations, within six hours, at the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA)’s request.
26 January 2021
Pakistan: Opposition alliance accuses ruling PTI of illicit campaign financing
(lm) The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on January 20 issued notices to all parties in parliament in a case pertaining to allegations that the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) fraudulently financed its election campaign. The previous day, leaders of the opposition alliance Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) [see latest AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3] gathered outside the ECP to protest the “unacceptable delay” in the case. [Hindustan Times] [Al Jazeera]
In 2014, a founding member of the PTI had filed a petition with the ECP, alleging the party had illicitly received funds from foreigners. Arguing that the commission does not have the authority to examine the accounts of any political party, the PTI has since approached the Islamabad High Court six times to stay the hearing of the petition. Further, the PTI filed similar petitions against the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with the ECP. Last week, the PTI admitted raising campaign funds through foreign accounts, but blamed illegalities on its agents in the United States without specifying who they were. [The Express Tribune]
Speaking after the hearing, the petitioner said he had no confidence in the (ECP)’s scrutiny committee, alleging that the PTI had submitted fake documents. [Geo News]
Separately, the ECP on January 18 suspended the membership of 154 members of the country’s Senate, national and provincial assemblies after they failed to submit statements of their assets and liabilities. The lawmakers will remain suspended until the submission of their financial statements.
26 January 2021
Pakistan Taliban “commanders” killed in northwest
(lm) Pakistan’s military announced on January 24 it had killed five members of Pakistan’s leading Taliban group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in two separate security operations, including two senior members of different factions of the armed group. The operations had been conducted in districts of the country’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Pakistan’s military had launched a series of operations since 2014, forcing TTP to take sanctuary over the border in Afghanistan [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Al Jazeera 1]
Earlier three Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire during an operation against rebel hideouts in South Waziristan, another district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Two attackers, who had been active members of TTP, were also killed in the intelligence operation. [Anadolu Agency]
In another incident, at least four soldiers belonging to Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) were killed and five more injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near their vehicle in the province of Balochistan on January 20. The Balochistan Liberation Army, an outlawed militant organization that wages a violent armed struggle for separation of Balochistan from Pakistan, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The incident comes just a week after the provincial government launched a large-scale offensive following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 3, January/2021, 3, AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [South China Morning Post]
26 January 2021
Pakistan successfully tests long-range surface-to-surface missile
(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted on January 20 a flight-test of its Shaheen-III ballistic missile in the Northern Arabian Sea. The test flight is the latest in a series of missile tests carried out by Islamabad over the course of the past couple of weeks [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. [Anadolu Agency]
The country’s longest-range missile system, Shaheen-III was designed to reach Indian islands to deny Indian forces the “second-strike capability” – i.e., a country’s assured ability to respond to a nuclear attack with powerful nuclear retaliation against the attacker – according to a former Director General of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division. [Al Jazeera]
26 January 2021
Pakistan wants India held ‘accountable’ for 2019 airstrike
(lm) Pakistan has urged the world community to hold longtime rival India “accountable” for the 2019 Balakot airstrike conducted last February when Indian warplanes crossed the de facto border in the disputed region of Kashmir and dropped bombs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. [Anadolu Agency]
The move comes after a leaked WhatsApp chat between Hindu-nationalist pundit Arnab Goswani and a former media industry executive revealed that the Indian air strike inside Pakistan was pre-planned, allegedly designed to perpetuate the image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run up to the general elections. [South China Morning Post]
In early February 2019, a convoy of vehicles carrying security personnel was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, resulting in the deaths of more than 40 Indian paramilitary forces. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any connection to it.
Days later, Indian jets crossed into Pakistan and dropped bombs on the outskirts of the village of Balakot, characterizing the airstrike a preemptive strike directed against a terrorist training camp. The following day, in a tit-for-tat airstrike, the Pakistani Air Force shot down two Indian aircraft and arrested a pilot, who was later released as a “goodwill gesture.” [AiR (1/3/2019), AiR (4/2/2019)
26 January 2021
India starts construction on power project, despite objections from Pakistan
(lm) India‘s government on January 20 approved a $720 million investment for a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power station on the Chenab River in the Jammu and Kashmir union territory. Formed by the confluence of two rivers, Chandra and Bhaga, the Chenab River is a major river that flows in India and Pakistan. Islamabad has routinely opposed the construction out of fears that New Delhi could use the reservoirs to create deliberate and artificial water shortage or cause flooding in Pakistan. [livemint]
Pakistan has repeatedly raised its concerns with the World Bank, stating that India’s project was not in accordance with the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), a water-distribution treaty brokered by finance institution to use the water available in the Indus River and its tributaries. Signed in 1960, the Treaty allocates the Chenab River to Pakistan for exploitation, while India is entitled to use its water for domestic and agricultural uses or for “non-consumptive” uses such as hydropower. [The Express Tribune]
In her article Priyanka Bhide considers linkages between water security and socio-economic growth for six selected cities across India, where a rapidly increasing population and urbanization have driven up water demands all across the country. [China Water Risk]
26 January 2021
Indian army helicopter crashes in Kashmir
(lm) An Indian army helicopter crash-landed along the disputed along the Line of Control (LoC) on January 25, leaving one pilot dead and another critically injured. The incident occurred just days after an Indian soldier was shot dead by Pakistani snipers in the Jammu district. [Express] [Kahsmir Observer]
19 January 2021
China, Pakistan pose potential threat, says Indian Army Chief Naravane
(lm) Indian Army Chief General Naravane said on January 12 that Pakistan and China continue to pose threats to the northern and eastern borders of India, adding that India was facing the possibility of a two-front conflict due to increased cooperation between the two countries. While addressing the media on the eve of India’s Army Day, Naravane also commented on the ongoing border stand-off with China in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, saying that Indian troops deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were prepared to “hold our ground as long as it takes”. [The New Indian Express]
While initially confirming the recent re-deployment of some 10,000 Chinese soldiers from some training areas on the adjacent Tibetan plateau [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2], the army chief also dampened expectations by adding that no change of posture had occurred on friction points along the LAC, where both sides had entered a winter deployment situation. [Anadolu Agency]
Talks between the two countries have all but been deadlocked since military officials last met in December – after more than 40 days without any dialogue – with both sides reinforcing their positions and digging their heels in, since then. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Observers of the months-long stand-off suggest the current pause in talks might be a strategic maneuver by Beijing as it casts an eye on Washington to get a better sense of what US President-elect Joe Biden’s policy toward China will entail. [South China Morning Post]
In this context, two recent events assume added significance, as they may be shaping Beijing’s considerations of US policy. To begin with, the outgoing US ambassador to India confirmed earlier this month that Washington and New Delhi had been working in “close coordination”, to help India counter what he referred to as “sustained […] aggressive Chinese activity on its border”. While the ambassador declined to provide further details, there is a good case to believe that New Delhi is relying on Washington for sharing geospatial data from airborne and satellite sensor [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1], as well as emergency purchases of cold-weather equipment for its personnel in the Himalayas [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3].
A case in point, photographs recently published by a US-based imaging company suggest that China continues construction work along the borer areas with India. [The Times of India]
What is more, a 2018 US document on its Indo-Pacific strategy was declassified on January 11, laying bare Washington’s view that India was “pre-eminent in South Asia” and that a “strong India” would “act as counterbalance to China”. [The Wire] [U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific]
19 January 2021
China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”
(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043.
The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership.
Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”
As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]
For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017.
19 January 2021
Pakistan: Government approves reform package for Auditor General of Pakistan
(lm) The federal government on January 12 approved legal amendments for laws governing the work of the Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP), the supreme audit institution tasked with ensuring public accountability, fiscal transparency, and oversight in governmental operations. [Profit by Pakistan Today]
Considering the organization’s pivotal role in bringing about improvements in the financial discipline and minimizing the possibility of waste and fraud, the amendments are aimed at extending the AGP’s purview to autonomous bodies which had hitherto been getting their accounts audited from private firms. [Dawn]
19 January 2021
United Kingdom keen to boost trade with Pakistan
(lm) During a visit to the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), the British Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi has conveyed London’s interest in increasing bilateral trade with Pakistan. The two countries identified four areas for close cooperation, namely healthcare, education, green energy, and infrastructure. [The Express Tribune]
Since the transition period for Brexit ended on December 31, the United Kingdom is free to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, like the United States. To reduce the adverse effects of the economic disruption, London has been looking for trading opportunities elsewhere. In mid-November Prime Minister Johnson announced a major addition to the UK government’s ability to attract foreign investment, in the form of a newly established Office for Investment.
Shortly thereafter, India and the UK held ministerial talks to review their progress towards a bilateral post-Brexit Enhanced Trade Partnership, which could lead to a free trade agreement in the future. London has also proposed establishment of a UK-Bangladesh Trade and Investment Dialogue aimed at deepening the trading relationship between the two countries. A government to government (G2G) trade meeting is set to be held in later this month. [AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2]
19 January 2021
Pakistan Navy successfully test-fires anti-ship missiles, torpedoes
(lm) Pakistan’s Navy sank a retired ship on January 12 using missiles and torpedoes launched from submarines in the Arabian Sea. [Anadolu Agency]
The exercise came after the navy last month assumed command of the Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), a multinational naval task force conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. The command of CTF-151 was previously held by the Turkish Navy.
19 January 2021
At UN, Pakistan calls for outlawing violent nationalist groups
(lm) Laying out an “action plan” before the 15-member United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Pakistan has urged the principal organ to designate “violent nationalist groups”, including India’s right-wing, Hindu nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as proscribed outfits, saying they would pose “a clear […] danger to regional and international peace and security”. [The Express Tribune] [Anadolu Agency]
RSS is the progenitor and leader of a large body of organizations called the “Sangh Parivar” (Family of the RSS) that also includes the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
19 January 2021
Pakistani security forces launch offensive in Balochistan province
(lm) Following the killing of 11 coalminers belonging to the Shi’ite Hazara community [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1], Pakistan has launched a large-scale offensive in the province of Balochistan province, the providence’s home minister announced on January 11. Coming in the wake of the death of Karima Baloch, a Pakistani Baloch human rights activist and dissident, the announcement has raised concerns that the operation is also aimed at dealing a long-lasting blow to the struggle for independence of Balochistan. [Daiji World]
Analysts believe the brutal killing of the coalminers by Islamic State militants to be the latest in a series of attacks targeting projects under the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC), the $50 billion Pakistan component of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The city of Bostan, which is set to become one of a total of nine Special Economic Zones under the second phase of CPEC, is located just 100 kilometers north of the village where the coalminers were killed. Hence, the deadly attacks have put Pakistan in a tight spot, given that Beijing has long been pressing Islamabad to crack down on both ethnic separatist groups as well as IS militants to protect projects linked to the CPEC [see AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Nikkei Asia]
19 January 2021
Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan issue joint “Islamabad Declaration”
(lm) Turkey, Pakistan, and Azerbaijan have agreed to formulate a joint strategy in which they agreed to support each other on various international forums on matters pertaining to territorial conflicts. The agreement was reached on January 13 at the Second Trilateral Meeting between the three countries, attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and his Pakistani and Azerbaijani counterparts, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jeyhun Bayramov. [Anadolu Agency] [Hurriyet Daily News]
For a start, successive Pakistani governments have backed Ankara’s position on the Cyprus dispute, an ethnic dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. Moreover, Islamabad and Ankara already have a substantive defense and security cooperation, which was initially boosted with significant defense deals in 2018, elevating Turkey to become Pakistan’s second-biggest arms supplier after China [see AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4, AiR No. 46, November/2019, 2]. Ankara is currently building four MILGEM-class war ships for the Pakistan Navy, inter alia, while it also has purchased 52 Mashahk training aircraft from Islamabad.
Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijan has had close ties with both Pakistan and Turkey since becoming an independent state in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. More recently, Turkish-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) gave Baku the upper hand in the military escalation with Armenia, which relied on tanks, artillery, and missiles. [TRT World]
While Ankara already has a strong strategic military partnership with Baku, Islamabad is also looking to strengthen bilateral military ties. Just earlier this month, the air chiefs of Azerbaijan and Pakistan met and discussed joint pilot training and military exercises. [Daily Pakistan]
12 January 2021
Pakistan: Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks sentenced to five years in jail for terror financing
An anti-terrorism court sentenced Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to five years imprisonment and a fine over a charges of terrorism financing. Earlier this month, Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [Dawn]
12 January 2021
Pakistan: Anti-terrorism court sentences three to death for sharing blasphemous content on social media
(lm) An anti-terrorism court (ATC) has sentenced to death three men for social media posts deemed blasphemous. A fourth accused, a college professor, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for a “blasphemous” lecture he had delivered in the classroom. The convicted people can appeal in two higher courts to overturn their conviction or ask for mercy from the president. [Al Jazeera] [Dawn]
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Pakistan, where insulting the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty. Even mere accusations of blasphemy have incited mass protests and mob lynching even before their trials were concluded in courts [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].
12 January 2021
Pakistan: Shia Hazara community ends protest as Prime Minister Khan visits Quetta
(lm) Protests over the killing of 11 Shi’ite Hazara miners in the city of Quetta were finally called off on January 9, after the provincial government of Balochistan and representatives of the Hazara community reached an agreement. Tens of thousands gathered for the burial of the 11 coalminers, who were killed by Islamic State militants earlier this month [see AiR No. 1, January/2021, 1]. [The Straits Times] [Arab News]
Accompanied by Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Quetta the following day to meet with the families of the deceased. Before then, the protests had further spread to other cities of the country, including the southern metropolis of Karachi, with protesters demanding the dissolution of the provincial government of Balochistan and strong action by Islamabad to find and punish the culprits. The prime minister had also come under fire for saying he would not let protesters blackmail him into coming to Quetta. [Dawn 1] [Dawn 2] [The EurAsian Times] [Reuters]
12 January 2021
Pakistan: Pakistan observes annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day
(lm) Rallies and seminars were held across Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to mark the annual Right to Self-determination of Kashmiris Day on January 5. On this day in 1949, the United Nations committed that the Jammu and Kashmir dispute would be decided through a free and fair plebiscite. The same day, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the grave human rights violations in occupied Kashmir. [Anadolu Agency]
Addressing the upper house of parliament, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reaffirmed Islamabad’s support to the pro-freedom struggle in Indian-administered Kashmir, saying Pakistan was part of the Kashmiris’ “movement for self-determination.” Qureshi also said Islamabad expects an active United States role vis-à-vis the resolution of the long-standing dispute. [Profit Pakistan]
Winding up the Senate session, the foreign minister the next day invited lawmakers from three mainstream opposition parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) – for talks to chalk out a comprehensive action plan aimed at resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute. [Dawn]
12 January 2021
Pakistan conducts successful test flight of Fatah-1 rocket system
(lm) Pakistan successfully conducted a test flight of Fatah-1, an indigenously developed guided multi-launch rocket system. Last February, amid heightened tensions with neighboring India, Islamabad carried out a successful test of its Ra’ad-II cruise missile. A month earlier, Pakistan tested the Ghaznavi ballistic missile, which has a range of 290 kilometers, just days after India tested its submarine-launched K-4 ballistic missile. Anadolu Agency]
12 January 2021
Turkmenistan, Pakistan agree to deepen bilateral trade
(lm) During a meeting between Turkmenistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and an Adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, both sides agreed to deepen trade relations between the two countries. Located in a landlocked but resource-rich region, Turkmenistan expressed keen interest in connecting with Pakistan’s warm water ports – most notably the China-operated Gwadar port. [The Express Tribune] [Profit by Pakistan Today]
To gain access to the economies of neighboring countries, Islamabad is already working on a trilateral railway project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5].
12 January 2021
Saudi Arabia fails to sign debt suspension pact with Pakistan
(lm) Saudi Arabia failed to sign a formal agreement with Pakistan for debt suspension under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which offers a temporary suspension of government-to-government debt payments to 76 countries. A deadline for phase-1 of the suspension initiative covering a period from May to December 2020 expired on December 31 last year. [The Express Tribune]
Since the DSSI was approved last April [see AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3], Islamabad had entered into negotiations with 21 creditor countries for debt suspension amounting to $1.7 billion. According to the Economic Affairs Ministry, Pakistan successfully negotiated and concluded rescheduling agreements with 19 bilateral creditors, including members of the so-called Paris Club group of major creditor countries. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the two remaining countries that are yet to ratify debt suspension agreements with Pakistan.
Last year, Saudi Arabia already decided to withdraw its cash-support to Pakistan, withdrawing 2$ billion in loan and cancelling investment commitments of another $20 billion in Pakistan. At the time, China had come forward and extended $1 billion in loan to help Islamabad avoid any adverse impact of the partial withdrawal of the Saudi lifeline [see AiR No. 32, August/2020, 2]. Riyadh also asked its ally UAE to choke Islamabad economically by suspending work visas to its citizens [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].
12 January 2021
Pakistan cannot recognize Israel, says Prime Minister Imran Khan
(lm) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on January 6 said Islamabad would refuse to recognize Israel until a viable two-state solution was reached in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further elaborating, the prime minister provided two reasons, the first one being a potential loss of “moral standing” on the Kashmir conflict. On the second reason, Khan then cited Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, who in 1948 said that Pakistan could never accept Israel as long as Palestinians are not given their rights and there was no just settlement.[Anadolu Agency]
Touching on ties between Turkey and Pakistan, the prime minister recalled the “historical linkage” between the two countries and said they will not forget the support and help Turkey has given to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. [The EurAsian Times]
12 January 2021
Pakistan, United States hold joint consultations over strategic defense dialogue
(lm) A US delegation led by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs visited Pakistan’s General Headquarters (GHQ) on January 7 to hold formal consultations on under the Pakistan-US Strategic Level Defense Dialogue. While discussing opportunities for strengthening bilateral defense cooperation on counterterrorism, the senior US official reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to a “long-term mutually-beneficial security partnership” with Islamabad. [The Express Tribune]
5 January 2021
Islamic State militants kill coal miners in southwestern province of Balochistan
(lm) Islamic State militants in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan have killed at least 11 workers at a remote coal mine, authorities said on December 3. Police video of the bodies revealed the miners were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs before being shot. The victims were said to be members of the minority Shiite Hazara community, which is often targeted by Sunni militant groups, including the Islamic State group, who consider them heretics. [Al Jazeera] [Deutsche Welle]
Following the incident, hundreds of Shiites blocked a key highway on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Quetta, the coffins with the miners’ bodies laid out on the ground before them, insisting they would not be buried until authorities arrest the killers. [Associated Press]
5 January 2021
Pakistan: Supreme Court takes up Senate election reference
(lm) Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) on January 4 commenced the hearing for a presidential reference seeking advisory jurisdiction on holding the upcoming Senate elections through open ballot. The reference was filed by the federal government after it decided to hold elections for the 52 seats that will fall vacant following the retirement of some senators from the 104-member upper house in March next year [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. [The Express Tribune 1] [The Nation]
Filed by the Attorney General earlier last week, the reference seeks the apex court’s opinion on Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s plan to hold the election for members of the Senate utilizing show of hands. Further, the government seeks legal guidance on amending Section 122(6) of the Elections Act, 2017 through an ordinance before the commencement of the election. The presidential reference further argues that there is national consensus amongst all major political parties, jurists and civil society that the electoral process should be cleansed of the pervasive practice of vote buying in elections to the Senate. [Dawn]
Separately, the oppositional Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) on December 1 decided to participate in the upcoming by-elections [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4] but postponed a decision about contesting the Senate elections. The 11-party alliance also decided to hold protests at the offices of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) later this month.
The PDM meeting was held a day after its deadline for collecting resignations of national and provincial lawmakers belonging to its constituent parties ended on December 31 [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3]. It also came a week after the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – a constituent party of the PDM – had decided to take part not only in by-polls but also in the Senate elections. [The Express Tribune 2] [The Express Tribune 3]
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) also stands divided on participating in the upcoming Senate elections, with one group supporting the PPP’s stance of not leaving the field open for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), while another group had advocated boycotting the contest, seeing a meagre benefit for the party. [Asian News International]
5 January 2021
Pakistan: Abducted lawyer appears before Islamabad High Court
(lm) The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on January 4 once again expressed concern over the “deteriorating law and order situation” in the capital after a lawyer, who had been abducted from his home by unidentified individuals two days earlier, appeared in court to detail the ordeal he allegedly went through. In his detailed order, the IHC also noted that the Islamabad Capital Territory is directly supervised and administratively controlled by the federal government. A group of 12-15 people posing as members of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) had kidnapped the lawyer late on Saturday night but released him after keeping him in illegal detention for forty-eight hours. [Dawn]
Extrajudicial abductions and enforced disappearances by shadowy military agencies have been a feature of life in Pakistan for two decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly pledged to end the practice, but since he became prime minister in 2018, the disappearances have continued [see e.g., AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4], while accountability seems as elusive as ever.
5 January 2021
Pakistan: Passport of former Prime Minister Sharif to be cancelled in February, says interior minister
(lm) Against the larger backdrop of Islamabad’s failure to persuade the United Kingdom to repatriate former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan on December 30 announced that it was planning to cancel Sharif’s passport in mid-February. Sharif, who was jailed in a corruption case in 2018, has been residing in London since November last year after a court granted him indefinite bail to seek medical treatment. The former prime minister is facing several corruption charges in Pakistan and is considered by the courts to have absconded. He is also facing sedition charges for accusing the military of political interference [see AiR No. 41, October/2020, 2, AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. [Dawn] [Hindustan Times]
In October, Pakistan’s federal government had written to British authorities for a third time, requesting the UK to consider cancelling Sharif’s visa [see also AiR No. 37, September/2020, 3]. Responding in writing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel pointed out that the UK government was subject to international law, adding that London would give a potential extradition treaty request ‘full attention the provision of UK law.’ Pakistan currently has no extradition treaty with the UK. In response, Islamabad the same month withdrew clearance for a flight chartered by the UK to take deportees from London to Islamabad. While Pakistan has denied any links to the row over Nawaz Sharif’s repatriation, the move last month prompted a letter from Patel to a Special Assistant to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4].
Separately, a British High Court has ordered debiting more than $28 million from the bank accounts of Pakistan’ High Commission in London, after more than two years Islamabad had lost a long-running arbitration case against a foreign asset recovery firm. [WION] [The New Indian Express]
5 January 2021
Pakistan: Provincial government will pay to rebuild Hindu temple destroyed by mob
(lm) A Hindu temple in northwestern Pakistan will be rebuilt using provincial government funds, after it was destroyed by a Muslim mob last week. Around 1,500 people descended on the temple after protesting the alleged expansion of the century-old temple, using sledgehammers to damage the structure’s walls before setting the building on fire. The mob was led by a radical cleric and supporters of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), one of Pakistan’s largest Islamic parties. [The Straits Times] [Deutsche Welle]
Hindus constitute Pakistan’s largest non-Muslim minority, estimated at between two and four percent of the population, most of whom live near the Indian border in the southern province of Sindh. Discrimination and violence against religious minorities has been growing in Pakistan for the last five years, with more frequent attacks on places of worship [see latest AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2]. Following the incident, dozens of Hindus rallied in the southern port city of Karachi to demand the rebuilding of their place of worship. [South China Morning Post]
5 January 2021
Pakistan urges UN to prevent “judicial murder” of Kashmiri separatist
(lm) Pakistan called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on January 1 to prevent the “judicial murder” of Asiya Andrabi, founding leader of Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Nation, DeM). A part of the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), DeM is an all-woman outfit that advocates jihad to establish Islamic law in Kashmir and to establish a separate state from India. A Delhi court last month ordered framing charges against Andrabi and her two associates for allegedly “waging war against India” and other unlawful activities, two years after she was taken into custody by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s federal anti-terror organization. [Dawn]
5 January 2021
Leader of group linked to 2008 Mumbai attacks arrested in Pakistan
(lm) Pakistan authorities on January 2 arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, leader of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), over a separate case of terrorism financing. Lakhvi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore where he was running a medical dispensary that he allegedly used to collect funds for militant activities. [The Straits Times]
One of the largest militant organizations in South Asia, LeT is accused by India of plotting the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left at least 174 people dead and more than 300 wounded. The Indian government’s view is that Pakistan, particularly through its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has both supported the group. Lakhvi was detained in 2015 over the attacks but granted bail months later. Since then, the government had slapped him with a series of detention orders, but judges repeatedly cancelled them. [The Hindu]
Context and timing of the arrest are significant, coming in the run-up to a series of meetings of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that monitors global money laundering and terrorist financing. During the FATF’s last review in October, Islamabad was urged to complete the internationally agreed action plan by February 2021 and to demonstrate that terrorism financing probes resulted in effective sanctions [see AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4].
Earlier this year, Pakistan also arrested firebrand cleric and alleged mastermind of the attacks Hafiz Saeed, who heads the Islamist militant organization Jama’at-ud-Da’wah (JuD), a wing of LeT, for terrorism financing. An anti-terrorism court sentenced Saeed to fifteen-and-a-half years in prison on charges of terrorism financing last week – his fourth conviction this year on similar charges [see AiR No. 47, November/2020, 4]. [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]
5 January 2021
Pakistan to buy costliest LNG amid increasing gas shortage
(lm) Against the backdrop of an intensifying domestic gas crisis [see AiR No. 51, December/2020, 4], Pakistan LNG, the state-run procurement agency, will be buying an all-time high priced Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) to secure cargoes for February. Meeting with industrialists, President Arif Alvi, meanwhile, promised to take up the matter with concerned ministers. [Geo News] [The Express Tribune]
LNG spot buying has become a topic of intense debate in the South Asian country, where gas demand peaks in December and January as people use more natural gas to heat homes during the winter [see AiR No. 45, November/2020, 2].
5 January 2021
Pakistan, China agree on need to deepen cooperation
(lm) During a telephone conversation between Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, both sides on December 31 agreed to deepen their cooperation and work together for peace and stability in the region. The same day, representatives of both countries signed a loan agreement worth $100 million for the rehabilitation of the National Highway N-5 Project, an 1819-km road artery linking the port of Karachi to Peshawar and the Afghan border. [Dawn] [The Nation]
To maintain the momentum of high-level exchange, Chinese President Xi Jinping was scheduled to visit Islamabad early this year. However, it now appears that the trip may not happen in the coming months as Qureshi has been invited to visit Beijing, instead.
China, meanwhile, has dismissed reports that it sought additional guarantees from Pakistan before sanctioning a $6 billion loan for the construction of a railway line project [see AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]. Beijing also rejected claims that it was moving away from its initial commitments to Islamabad under the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement, after Pakistani media had reported that concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back loans had emerged in recent negotiations. [WION] [The Hindu]